May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to reflect on why mental and emotional balance is so important for our overall well-being. It’s also our third month in social isolation, which has led to business closures, job losses and financial hardships that have put extreme pressure on individuals and families.
Major life disruptions like these only underscore the importance of self-care, according to Gary Morse, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the mental health nonprofit Places for People. He stresses that at any age, it’s important to come up with proactive ways of coping instead of just hoping for the best.
“This outbreak is unprecedented in most people’s lifetimes,” he notes. “Each person has different mental health triggers to deal with, whether it’s illness, family problems or financial strain, so the key is to identify yours and learn appropriate coping skills. Many of us are so used to running quickly through life that suddenly having to stay at home can take a toll as well. We can’t singlehandedly stop the pandemic, and the uncertainty of that may seem daunting, but there are ways to create solutions and gain some sense of control.”
Follow the rules. The more consistently we wear masks and practice careful handwashing and social distancing, the more we reduce our vulnerability (and that of others).
Limit exposure to media. Having the TV on all day can lead to unnecessary worry, confusion and stress. Kids and adults both need breaks from information overload, including the Internet and social media.
Find other ways to connect. We are social creatures, so isolation can be tough, especially for those who are extroverts by nature. But there also are plenty of electronic ways to ‘meet up,’ like scheduling a video call with friends or playing online games together.
Take a deep breath. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can help you focus on proper breathing and relaxation. Even a quick break with 10 deep, conscious breaths can help ease anxiety.
Rest up and eat right. Nutritious, natural foods and seven to eight hours of sleep each night add up to better all-around health.
Practice compassion and gratitude. Call to check on neighbors, run errands for the elderly, and thank those who are working on the front lines. Doing good for others is always good for your own mental health.
Create moments of joy. Focus on small ‘wins’ each day, like special moments with your kids or blessings that make you feel grateful.
“It’s normal to feel fear in an unknown situation like this, but the difference lies in whether we allow it to overtake us,” Morse adds. “Psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl wrote that any freedom can be taken away except the freedom to choose your own attitude. Our ancestors lived through many hardships like war, famine and oppression, but they came out stronger because they knew the power of a positive outlook. In many ways, it’s in our DNA to be survivors.”